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How do I begin?...again?

People say farming is hard work. It was the warning I was given as I set out to become a farmer. Duh. Of course it is. It's manual labour. It's like being a little bit of an entreprenuer, accountant, actuary, CMO, CFO, plumber, electircian, carpenter, mother, seer, and slave. I love working hard. The jobs that kicked my ass were always the ones I enjoyed the most. Digging holes for my mini-orchard, feeding my hens, tending my tomatoes in my urban setting was when I felt the most alive.I was prepared for the hard work.

What I didn't know is I would let my house go to shit. Don't all these random items have homes? Someone should organize that.

What I didn't know is I would be less there for my daughter. I have less time and I'm always tired. I feel like an asshole about it. If I could just get her outside with me more often...

What I didn't know is how it would feel to have to say goodbye to over 200 birds that were never slated to be killed. They had other jobs, mainly eating ticks (guineas), mowing the lawn around the house (geese), and laying eggs (chickens, guineas, and ducks). They had names. They filled the air with sound as I worked all day, every day. I knew if someone pulled into our driveway even when I was 1000 feet away (thank you guineas and geese). I knew when to look up to see an eagle - the rooster was sounding the alarm, as did the drakes. I knew when there was a fox (guinea alarm).

I love all animals (even snakes and ants!), but I LOVE birds. I am not sure why. They don't have fur. They often look reptilian. But I adore them. I pick them up and give them little hugs. I talk to them, and they talk back. They follow you around or run away, can be easy to herd, and can be more like herding cats; depends on the bird. I want more birds- peafowl, maybe some tiny, little quail, some heritage breed turkeys. Don't show me a bird I can keep on the farm- I want it!

Avian Influenza is a monster. I had some biosecurity measures in place, but since I had not confined all my birds top their houses this winter, none of those measures mattered. Wild ducks can fly. And they can shit wherever they like.

I came out on a Monday afternoon & found a dead guinea; that evening and found a dead chicken. I had seen the chicken acting weird. Milo said he saw 4 guineas hiding their heads, taking naps, and it seemed weird. If you see your animals, and think, "huh", take another look. If they are acting different, there is a GOOD reason.

Tuesday morning I found my little Betty dead. I knew she was not well the evening before. She had been cuddled with the other hen that had died. But Betty had a curved spine, and only grew to half size. Most farmers would have culled her, but she was sweet, and not mentally challenged. She kept up fine. Until she didn't. I started crying that day, an ominous feeling taking over. Fear holding my breath.

Wednesday morning I found 2 dead guineas in my barn and 4 dead chickens in the greenhouse. I looked around at the other 130 some odd chickens in the greenhouse and saw a lot of birds on the ground, sitting still, just standing there. I could tell they would be next. I walked out, took one look at the ducks and geese, and started sobbing. I wept like someone in my family had just died. I knew what was going to happen- they were all going to die. That evening I found 10 more dead hens. By then, I had already called the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency - responsible for the response to AI) and they were slated to come the following morning to swab the dead.

Thursday morning I found 12. That evening, 18.

Friday they called to tell me it was positive. And by positive, I mean, negative. Each day, as I watied out the snow storm, so the CFIA could come to euthanize my flocks, I went out to do chores weaping. I picked up all the dead, and then I fed the rest. One day, I found over 50 dead birds over the course of the day. I don't know how I would have done it without Milo being here, letting me lean on him. I couldn't face it alone. I could barely do my job. He had to do the brunt of the chores. I was traumatized over and over again for days and days. It was the fucking worst. I watched my birds suffer. I am going to learn the proper technique for cervical dislocation so that if it happens someone is suffering, I can end it quickly. I don't want to describe what I saw them experience. Some seemed to just drop dead, but others obviously had high fevers and some even vomited. It was fucking awful. As I write this, I still have 11 guineas to catch. They couldn't catch them. I look at them and listen. They are so beautiful. When they are calm, the make the sweetest sounds. It's heartbreaking.

In the meantime, my farm is under a quarantine order. Without a permit, I cannot harvest my cow or pigs. Until I have done away with all the bedding, and cleaned the bejesus out of pretty much everything (since the birds were in the barn), the quarantine stands. I have to take out every single item (like a table saw, and poultry netting (portabe fencing). I have a choice- clean and disinfect every 2x4 or burn them. It's where we kept all our tools, feeders, and things that are used seasonally, with exception to market garden tools. All these things have to be taken out, washed, dried, then disinfected. In the interim, the barn has to be swept out, and all the bedding from the barn, brooder, duck house and goose house can go into the greenhouse. Any item I cannot wash I can put in the greenhouse and seal it up. Once it is sealed it has to be left alone. After 120 days above 4 degrees centigrade, it can be opened and all will be virus-free. So, in about 6 months, I can get back in there (at the earliest 120 days, but some days it won't be that warm in the greenhouse). It is still winter.

Until the cleaning is done and the greenhouse is sealed, we are under quarantine. I can't go to stores farmers go to, like the co-op and other feed stores. I can't sell at the markets. I can't even go to the markets as a customer. My truck tires are covered in cooties. Eventually I will have to wash and disinfect them when leaving the driveway. You read that correctly. I have to pull to the end of the drive, then wash & disinfect my tires.

Once the quarantine is lifted, I can go back to selling chicken, pork, and finally- beef, but I won't have a single egg. I worked so hard to make my eggs the perfect melange of colours.

Because my layer flock nets 3 times what meat chickens net in one season, and are an integral part of keeping customers, mama needs her eggs.

But when can I get them? Can I safely order them now, assuming I will clean in time? Do I buy chicks, hatching eggs, point-of-lay? Do I buy all commerical or get more heritage breeds? (By the way, the heritage breeds outlasted the commerical birds with the flu.)

What about ducks? And geese?

And what about the ticks? How soon can I get some guinea eggs to incubate? It will be so fucking long before any of these things are back as they were. I had gotten used to no longer needing to do tick checks. We hadn't seen one in over a year.

Rebuilding takes a lot of money and energy, heat lamps, starter and grower feed, wood shavings for the brooder, and on and on. If I'm incubating, there will be a very shitty electric bill in my future. All of this will take my time and attention. I want 200 laying chickens, so I am going to focus on that. Maybe half chicks, half point-of-lay. I don't like the condition the 18 week olds come in; it made my cry- imaging their shitty warehouse, so I don't want to get them all from there. Plus, I need some blue and green egg layers.

This year, becuase of the rebuilding, I will most likely not: plant the market garden(again) - assuming the greenhouse is tied up until late July, nor raise meat chickens, nor turkeys. I know the smartest thing for me is to take this opportunity to slow it down a notch. I was doing too many things. What does less work, more income look like? Would it would mean no waterfowl. No filling of kiddie pools, no time spent feeding them. I wasn't at a busy market when they were laying like gangbusters, and their eggs were popular, once I was at the markets. But, it wasn't profitable last year. But I love duck eggs. And ducks make me laugh and smile, as do the geese, so maybe I keep it super small. Of course, generally, it's the same amount of work for 5 as it is for 50. Same steps, heavier bucket. Everything is up in the air. We kept our cows, and have decided to end the beef enterprise this coming fall, when we harvest our heifer & steer. It's the only way I won't lose my shirt on two winters of hay. After that(summer 2024) we will use the existing pasture to rotate the kunekunes instead of cattle. I would also like to have lamb for sale; I think it would sell well. I had sheep as part of my original business plan, and have been asked by customers many times if I have lamb. They would need less pasture than cattle, for sure, and take 1/2 as much time. But do I add those this year? Do I wait until the cattle are gone? Does that even make sense? I could get some bottle babies to fill the hole in my heart. And then I could throw them in with the cattle. Their portable shelter is ready to be built & could be done in a day. I'm thinking about it.

I will likely take the chalkboard wall in my bedroom & start making a chart. I need to look at the income vs. time for each enterprise, and chose where we really need to focus. The pigs are a big focus, but after we harvest our 3 cattle, pigs are all we have. No one should put their eggs all in one basket. Shit, I don't even have any fucking eggs. Sigh.

For now, I am barely able to function. I am so sad. It is so fucking quiet outside. For the first time, since our first summer here, I can hear all the wild birds. I heard a hairy woodpecker the other day.

I know good can come out of this. But for now, I'm full of grief, scared about not having income (again) for an unspecified amount of time, and am daunted by the cleaning process. But our barn was a mess, and needed to be cleaned and organized. Everything got away from me last summer.

We will take this time to look at everything from a micro to a macro level and use the holistic management test questions to make decisions.

I would like to take a moment to share the support we have been given. People are rooting for us. Strangers have offered us heritage breed chicks (frizzle polish- yes, please), one woman offered a third of her adult guinea fowl, and another farmer offered toulouse geese, similar to those we had. People have offered to come help harvest our heifer, since we can't take her off farm, and help me sell meat boxes (none of which can currently be done without a special permit). They have offered to incubate eggs and raise some heritage chicks for us until they are ready to be outside, just to ease my burden of starting over. We were sent a donation from our most wonderful feed producer. Our local feed co-op has gifted us a generous number of point-of-lay chickens; all saying - "when you're ready". The Lunenburg Farmer's Market has told me my spot is waiting for me, which relieved a huge fear of mine. That market is a boon to our farm. They let me know they are all just sick about this. This kind of community support is common in Canada. It is heartwarming. I know people appreciate what I do (and I make them laugh), and they want me to succeed. People have cried with me. I feel like I am a part of this community, now, realizing how many people out there who care about me, my farm, and my family. Thank you all for your kindness during this dreadful time.

It is pretty heartbreaking to get two and a half years into farming, finally starting to make some money, and feel like the ground just fell out from underneath you. I haven't even really processed any of that. I am still crying for my lost birds. I had so many different relationships with my many birds. And my heart is broken. I just want babies. I need babies. I want some lambs, maybe some donkeys, and some bunnies. Maybe now I should get some Valais Blacknose Sheep.

(Notice I'm not naming birds- I know I can't have birds now.) Instead, I will go out now to do my chores & finish making a trap for my remaining guineas. I have no choice. They all have to go. It's so sunny the snow is going to blind me. My brain keeps wondering why the roosters aren't crowing. I keep looking up at times, almost hearing grandpa & expecting to see my geese where they always hung out; like picking up the phone to call someone who is dead, remembering at the last second that they're dead.

But I am strong and this is not going to stop me. I am not giving up this easily. If everyone gave up when farming got this hard, which (I imagine) it does for every farmer now and again, then humans would starve. I'm not giving up. But, maybe for the next couple of weeks, I am going to keep hiding in my bed, until I'm ready to get up and start writing on the wall. Researching. Planning again. And executing that plan. The only thing I can say for sure, is that at the earliest possible moment, theyre will be laying hens on this farm again, and we will begin again.

People have asked about helping financially, so I will share our email. Donations accepted and immensely appreciated. Interac:

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Im so sorry for your loss, sister. You are strong and will rise again. That I know for sure. Your community, family, friends and animals are all lucky to have you. Big hugs to you all🤗.

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